Yet another time travel book this year. If you had a chance to travel back (or forward) in time, whom would you meet and what will you ask them? Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi runs around this theme and let us get on to my book review right away.
About Before the Coffee Gets Cold
Book Name: Before the Coffee Gets Cold
Author: Toshikazu Kawaguchi
Genre: Fiction – Drama,
Characters: Kazu, Nagare and Kei, Fusagi and Kohtake
Setting: Tokyo, Japan
Plot Summary of Before the Coffee Gets Cold
The Funiculi Funicula is a basement cafe that has an ambient temperature whatever be the time of the day or season outside, despite no apparent air conditioning. Urban legend holds that its patrons can travel in time by following some rules and certain ritual.
But the catch is that, the trip would bear no impact to the present or future. And the opportunity to travel in time is also rare – only when a particular seat is vacant.
Four different patrons take their chances to time travel even though they know they cannot change their history. Did they make it back safely? What did they want to do so important that they risk getting stuck in a forever loop?
Read Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi to know more.
Book review of Before the Coffee Gets Cold
Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi consists of four interlinked short stories of four patrons of the cafe who want to travel in time, and seek someone special.
The premise is quite interesting and simple. But it works well because of the characters, despite the straight forward plot.
I loved the three café workers and their relationships with these patrons. While they are not traveling in time, they understand why it is important for these four to do so and they almost hold their breath until they return from their trip (or not.)
The book is quintessentially Japanese, or East Asian. When I learnt that Before the Coffee Gets Cold was initially written as a play, it made more sense about why everything was overexplained and had minimal descriptions.
What worked for me
- Before the Coffee Gets Cold is a character driven book and if you are not one for them, this book might bore you soon enough.
- I loved Kazu, Kei and Nagare and I really hope to seeing more of them in the next part of the book.
- The book is hopeful and bittersweet. And if you are particularly emotional type, this book might overwhelm you (in a good way).
What may have been better
- There are times when the writing gets sloppy and repetitive. I am not sure if it is an issue with the translation or the writing itself.
Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi might be the next bittersweet book you might be looking for. If you are looking Asian or Japanese books to read, Before the Coffee Gets Cold should be next pick.
Similar book reviews
Have you read Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi? How did it fare for you? What are your favorite Japanese literature that you read recently? Let us talk.
I recently read The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa and loved it, and I picked Convenience Store Woman on a whim hoping it will continue that streak. Let us get on with the review to know if it did, shall we?
About the book
Book Name: Convenience Store Woman
Author: Sayaka Murata, Ginny Tapley Takemori (Translator)
Genre: Fiction – Drama
Characters: Keiko Furukura, Shiraha
Setting: Tokyo, Japan
Keiko Furukura, a 36 year old convenience store worker, doesn’t fit into the social constructs. She doesn’t have a husband or a boyfriend, kids nor a well paying job – in short an outcast.
Keiko has been working at the same convenience store for eighteen years and has a routine that works for her. She has no interest in trying to fit in to the society but conveniently masks her oddities. She goes even to the extent of faking an illness which makes her too weak to work anywhere else.
Her peaceful life goes into a toss when she meets another part time worker, Shiraha who is an outcast as well. They share a lot of commonalities, and they even get into a relationship charade to shut the voices of the society.
How did that turn out? You will have to read Convenience Store Woman to know more.
My initial thoughts
I love reading character driven books and Convenience Store Woman does a great work at that. Keiko is a strong character who accepts and has no problem being the odd duck. She survives the pressure on woman to marry and birth a child at the right age without openly rebelling against the system. She is on the brink of a break down and yet manages to get through the motions of life. I adore the odd duck she was.
Convenience Store Woman is a melancholic, relatable and yet so surreal. It is quintessentially Japanese and is a great choice to read if you want to know more about the country’s culture and society.
I liked reading about the operations of a convenience store and the role it plays in helping Keiko to mimic other humans. Maybe she is on the spectrum but the author never explicitly discusses that. I am glad I found Convenience Store Woman among the hundreds of recommendations on bookstagram.
Things that worked for me
- Convenience Store Woman gives a great commentary on the culture and society of Japan.
- The characters are etched to perfection. I could relate to them so deeply that it scares me.
- I loved the poignant undertone all through the book.
Things that didn’t work for me
Even though the book is comical in bits, but I saw many reviews saying this book was hysterical or funny. It wasn’t. Amusing maybe. Funny – no!
If you love character driven books and translated works, Convenience Store Woman is a great choice. If you liked books like Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time, this is for you!
Similar books that you might like
Let us chat
Do you read translated works? What was the last translated book that you read? What is your favorite and I am calling for more recommendations. Let us talk.
Cats scare me terribly! I have nightmares about them. I might have even walked around an entire block to avoid getting anywhere near them (more than once).
Naturally, I was skeptical about picking The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa, thanks to a friend’s persistent recommendation. Read on to find how that turned out for me.
About the book
Book Name: The Travelling Cat Chronicles
Author: Hiro Arikawa, Philip Gabriel (Translator)
Genre: Fiction – Drama
Characters: Satoru, Nana, Kozuke, Yoshimine, Sugi and Chikako, Noriko
Setting: Tokyo, Japan
Satoru finds a feral cat with a crooked tail resting on his silver van and begins feeding it, regularly. They settle into an understanding that he would get to pet the cat for food. But then, the cat meets with an accident and it is Satoru that nurses him back. One thing leads to another, he adopts the cat and names him Nana, much to the indignation of the cat!
Nana and Satoru settle into a comfortable companionship. After a few years, Satoru decides to give away Nana and they embark on a journey to find a suitable home among his friends. Read The Travelling Cat Chronicles to join the duo on their travel through Japan and Satoru’s childhood memories!
My initial thoughts
I LOVED THIS BOOK – there I said it! It might made me laugh. Had me heartbroken. Once I even got frowned upon for letting out a chuckle while on the treadmill at the gym. Despite having guessed the climax, I was not prepared for it. I didn’t want the book to end but I am glad it ended the way it did.
Our cat Nana, is feisty, snarky and funny as a cat can be (sorry, Garfield). There are multiple POVs but I obviously, loved Nana’s version the best. His overconfident attitude and voice was how I imagined how pets to be like. Great work with the translation. I was able to feel how South East Asian the story was, yet could relate to it, cat lover or not.
Things that worked for me
- The easy writing style hooked me right from the beginning.
- It has a perfect balance between funny and heart breaking.
- The book didn’t feel like a translated work at all, and kudos to the translator!
Things that didn’t work for me
- The plot is pretty predictable and don’t look for anything “intense”.
The Travelling Cat Chronicles is a feel good book, with a bittersweet ending. Be prepared to cry, laugh and snicker throughout!
Let us chat
Have you read this one? Have you read any other pet related books? If so which one would you recommend? Let us talk.
Now that I have got you all excited about Japan on our Flyaway Friday feature and showed you some books that might help you with the trip, let us get on to know more about the country.
Let’s get on with it shall we?
No, don’t worry I, someone who knows almost nothing about the country, am not gonna talk about it. But there is someone who knows Japan more than me and I mind controlled her to answer a few questions about the country.
Before that, let me link to our previous articles on Flyaway Friday right here: Netherlands, France, Finland, Italy and Philippines.
Say hello to Deeksha!
I am Deeksha. I am 25 years old and am an Indian living in Tokyo, Japan from the past 6 years. My hobbies are reading, drawing and painting, watching TV shows/movies in my free time. I “secretly” love Korean Drama and Candies and a Marvel Fan for life.
I am a newbie blogger, will be live with my blog, tokyobookworm, about books, from the 1st of June.
Q: What do you think is exotic about Japan?
A: Japan, also known as Nihon/ Nippon (にほん、日本), literally translates to ‘where the sun originates’. Even though this land of the rising sun is a small Island, has a vast and rich traditional history. From mesmerizing shrines to modern skyscrapers, serene nature to beautiful parks, mountains to beaches, architectural innovations to technology, Japan has it all.
The most beautiful thing about Japan is its cherry blossoms, also called Sakura in Japanese. Sakura is a flowering cherry tree which blossoms during the spring season. Sakura trees stretch throughout Japan and blossom collectively, making it look incredibly beautiful. Japan’s Sakura is known throughout, inviting people from all over the world.
During Sakura, the Japanese people have a tradition of having a party beneath the blossoms. This festival is called hanami. People picnic with friends and family BBQ’ing, playing cards and relaxing with a pint of beer.
Sakura is now a popular flavor which is made using sakura petals. Sakura Cakes, Sakura Ice-cream, Sakura Wine, Sakura Cola, Sakura Kit-kat, Sakura Rice-cakes are some of the must-try during this season.
Q: Will you tell us about Japan’s eating habits and Japanese cuisine?
A: Japanese people are not very big on cooking at home but they are big on food, and they tend to eat out a lot. This could be due to their long office hours(they are known for their hard work and late hours!). ‘Fresh’ readymade food is easily available throughout(at least in big cities).
You would find a variety of packed meals in most convenience stores and supermarkets. These meals are called Bento Boxes. Each bento generally has a single portion of a well-balanced meal. The meal can include rice or noodles, meat or fish with vegetables or fruits on the side. Sea-food in Japan is highly popular with their most famous dish being Sushi.
Some other famous foods from Japan – Ramen, Green Tea, Sticky Rice with Miso Soup, Sashimi, Tempura, Karaage, Kobe beef.
Most street side eating joints are small but plenty in number. In these small eateries, the customers sit beside each other and opposite the chef as they cook the meal. They are catered towards working men/women and their emphasis is on rotating seats as quickly as they can. Generally, you will see long lines outside these places but they move quickly.
Q: Tell us more about a typical day in Japan.
A: A typical day in working life of Tokyo is similar to any other country. Men and women in suits, standing in line waiting for the train.
I personally travel by bus to my workplace and the only over-the-top thing I‘ve observed is the treatment for physically impaired people, especially the one with wheelchairs. The bus driver himself carries a detachable platform for the person in a wheelchair and assists them to climb and get down from the bus, and of course, they are given the first priority.
Rush-hours at the major stations are pretty crazy, but it is completely organized. Let it be the train delays due to heavy snow or rain, you won’t see chaos at the stations but people patiently waiting in queues for the next train.
Yes, there are random rainy days and that’s why you will find umbrellas being sold at every store. The funny thing about umbrellas in Tokyo is, the people don’t mind stealing or in their words ‘borrowing’ an umbrella that has been abandoned or forgotten.
Battery operated cycles is a big thing in Tokyo, especially among the moms carrying their children (yes, plural!). These cycles are equipped with child-seat called ‘Mama-chaari’ and you will see many homeworker moms carrying their kids on those for a day out.
Almost all the restaurants have a special lunch menu (even TGIF/Hard rock cafe) dedicated to the working class people which costs from $5 – $15.
Smoking is vastly popular in Japan. And I haven’t seen a single country that is so open to people smoking in public places. The situation is definitely improving due to Olympics 2020, by giving the smokers dedicated places / closed rooms in a public space.
The cafes and restaurants generally have a smoking only designated areas, except Starbucks, which prohibits smoking inside.
Smoking is even allowed in the hotel rooms in Japan. When booking a room, you need to be specific if you need a smoking or a non-smoking room (something that you wouldn’t find in most countries).
Q: Can you tell us about some of unique Japanese customs and practices specific to Japan?
A: There are plenty of unique customs in Japan, which will be understood by you only if you’ve lived in Japan for a while. These are some of the fun customs :
- Putting your pinky up in Japan means “women”, usually referring to someone’s girlfriend/mistress/love. For example, if you ask your friend if he would like to go out for drinks, and he says no and puts his pinky up, it doesn’t mean he wants to pee but that he has plans with his girlfriend.
- In Japanese high school, if a girl gives a guy she admires gifts to confess her love, the guy accepts it by giving the second button from his school uniform. The second button is the one closest to the heart and hence the button is used as the metaphor.
Q: Tell us about some of the stereotypes about Japan as depicted in the media, books/film, etc that annoy you.
A: The world sees Japan as this technologically super-advanced, anime loving, sushi eating awesome country. Yes, those points are true, but there is more than that to this country. Some of the annoying stereotypes about Japan are :
- The movies usually show Japanese police to be very passive, which is completely false. They work as hard as any other cops from any other country. Since the crime rate is very low in Japan, thanks to their citizens, the police usually don’t get the credit they deserve.
- ‘Karate’ was originated in Japan and Kung-fu was originated in China, many people have it otherwise or think Karate was originated from China.
- Japanese game shows are getting famous for all the right reasons (number 1 being ‘weird’), which is true.
- ‘Japan is unsafe due to earthquakes’ This is a statement that annoys me the most as it always comes from someone who hasn’t lived in Japan that long or never visited the country. The government has taken so many extra steps to make sure the safety of its people, the civil engineers work hard to create earthquake-proof buildings, mandatory safety drills at schools and offices, etc. are a lot of reasons that show that Japan is not unsafe. Of course, natural disasters cannot be prevented, but Japan is surely always prepared for one.
Q: What are your favorite fictional (bookish or otherwise) characters native to Japan?
Shinchan is my favorite cartoon. They show the daily life of Japan as it is, apart from the weird sense of humor of Shinchan of course. 😛 The house, their lifestyle and the life of his father, being a common Japanese salary-man, is very relatable and very Japanese in a true sense.
Anime is hugely popular and has its own comic con events all year long. Top anime like DragonBall, Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, etc. originated in Japan and are popular worldwide.
Q: Tell us more about Japanese language. Teach us some common words and maybe, a few uncommon ones.
A: National Language of Japan is Japanese ( Nihongo – 日本語, Nihon + go is Japan + Language ). Japanese makes extensive use of Chinese characters, also called kanji (漢字), in its writing system.
Along with kanji, the Japanese writing system primarily uses two syllabic (or moraic) scripts, hiragana (ひらがな or 平仮名) and katakana (カタカナ or 片仮名). Latin script is used in a limited fashion, such as for imported acronyms, and the numeral system uses mostly Arabic numerals alongside traditional Chinese numerals.
Some common Japanese words are :
- Good Morning – Ohaiyo Gozaimasu ( おはようございます )
- Good Afternoon, Hi – Konnichiwa ( こんにちは )
- Good Evening – Konbawa ( こんばんは )
- Thank you – Arigatou Gozaimasu ( ありがとうございます )
Some beautiful Japanese words that don’t have a literal translation in English
“Itadakimasu” means “I humbly accept.” It is used before eating any food to express appreciation and respect for life, nature, the person who prepared the food, the person who served the food, and everything else that is related to eating.
Otsukaresama is one of the most common words used all over Japan. The literal translation of the word means “you’re tired”. It is used to let someone know that you recognize his/her hard work and that you are thankful for it.
Irrashyaimaasay is one of the words that you will hear in each store or restaurants. The owners/workers usually yell it out loud to show their enthusiasm and attention towards you. It translates to, you are welcome to my store/restaurant.
Last but not least,つんどく Tsundoku
Leaving a new book unread after buying it and just letting it pile up with the other unread books in the house.
Thank you, Deeksha!
I am back to thank her for taking time off her busy schedule to write us a guest post. You can follow and contact her through these links.
Blog | Goodreads| Instagram
If you have something to add to Deeksha’s story, drop a comment here or send her a word of thanks on the social media. Both of us would love that.
Also, Deeksha’s blog TokyoBookworm, will be going live tomorrow, on 1st June 2019 and it would mean a lot to me if you would go give her follow, nudge or a comment to make her feel welcome!
Similar Topics that might interest you
Let us chat
What are your favorite things about Japan? Is there something that I missed asking our guest? Did you know any of these Japanese phrases earlier? Let us chat.
I am so excited for this post. Yes let us talk about books set in Japan, one of the countries that I am kinda creepily obsessed about, under the Flyaway Friday feature. Can you blame me?
What is Flyaway Friday?
Ok let us back up a bit first.
On Fridays, I take you guys virtually to a new country, recommend books set in that country and the most exciting part of all, have a blogger from that country to tell us more about living there and help us compare what we read or see in books or movies with the reality as they see. So far we have been to Netherlands,France, Finland, Italy and Philippines.
My favorite books set in Japan
Now that pesky introduction has been done with, let us jump on to the topic
This epic family drama follows a Korean family that migrates into the imperialist Japan. We witness the WW II, division of Korea and the post war lives of the millions of Korean migrants in Japan through their eyes.
The author is a master storyteller that interweaves the prejudice, discrimination and racism in the society into this four generational saga.
This list is incomplete if I don’t mention Murakami. Kafka Tamura, a teenager runs away from his house in search of his long lost sister and his mother. Nakata, our second character survives by finding lost cats with his ability to talk to cats. Though they are physically close to each other, their lives are interwoven.
This surreal, poignant story will leave you with lots of hows and whys and wondering long after you finished it.
Kitchen talks about love, tragedy and grief in the loves of a young woman, who longs for a kitchen and the warmth of a home.
This novella stands out for its simplicity that will tug your heart. The simplistic narration talks about ordinary people leading a mundane life but had a profound effect on me.
Read my review of Kitchen here.
It is not often that I recommend a thriller in these posts but I have to add Soji Shimada because I am a sucker for such closed room murders.
This whodunnit is set in a crooked maze house of a millionaire who invites eight guests on a snowy night. Once everyone has settled for the night, several weird things start to happen. And the following morning, a guest is found dead inside his locked room. Who and how was it done?
Set in Tokyo before the WWI, the author’s cat who is the main character wanders around their neighborhood, judging and making fun of its owner and the world. This satirical commentary of the society will not fail to make you chuckle.
If you are interested to read a satire account of 1900s Japanese life and culture, pick this P G Wodehose-eseque book up right away.
Sayoko is a 17 year girl living in a remote fishing village during the end of the war. The presence of the American troops looms as a sinister to the villagers and four of them pull Sayoko into the woods to rape her.
The novel follows the ramification of the event of everyone around them and a young man who promises to avenge it. The story will leave a punch in your stomach!
Here are some more books that almost made my list.
Have you read any of these? What is the last book you have read set in Japan? Do you like reading translated works? Let us talk.